Thursday, 29 March 2012

Times: Cohabitation law will cover gay partnerships

Cohabitation law likely to run into controversy
Thursday, March 8, 2012 by Bertrand Borg

Gay couples are set to have their relationship recognised at law with the government saying that its cohabitation Bill, first promised 14 years ago, will also legislate for civil partnerships.

“The government’s stand is that the relationship between gay couples should be regulated through the law on co­habitation, including the institute of civil partnership,” a Justice Ministry spokesman said.

The spokesman was replying to questions put in the wake of an opinion piece in The Times penned by Nationalist backbencher Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando who called for gay marriage to be introduced.

Several years in the making, the cohabitation Bill is meant to be unveiled before Parliament shortly. The draft law will, for the first time in Maltese history, provide legal recognition to non-married co­habiting individuals.

Until now, there had been no indication as to whether the law would distinguish between different forms of cohabitation.

Intimate couples – gay or straight – have insisted their situation could not be placed on a par with other cohabition scenarios, such as siblings living under the same roof.

Their arguments appear to have taken root, with a ministry spokesman saying it was “obvious” that such realities differed considerably from one another.

“Therefore, the law must cater for this difference wherever necessary,” the spokesman added.

Eventual recognition of civil partnerships for homosexual couples would fulfil one of the declarations of intent in the Nationalist Party’s latest policy document, published last November.

Without going into specifics, the document had noted that the state “must legislate wherever necessary to establish the rights and responsibilities of such relationships for both heterosexuals and homosexuals”.

Legislating for civil partnerships for gay couples would also pull the rug from under the Labour Party’s feet, which has repeatedly said such a law would form part of its election manifesto.

Gay rights lobbyists have been stressing that they would like domestic law to be marriage neutral and not distinguish between the genders of marrying individuals, noting that Church and civil marriage procedures were distinct from one another. This would mean putting same-sex unions on the same level as traditional marriage. Civil partnerships are one step below this in terms of status but provide a legal equivalent.

However, it is not yet known what rights and responsibilities the proposed civil partnership legislation would entail. Issues concerning child adoption, inheritance and pensions have all been flagged as potential hot potatoes by commentators over the past few months.

The Church is adamantly against affording gay couples marriage rights or civil partnership. Pope Benedict XVI said earlier this year that any deviation from the traditional understanding of marriage would “threaten human dignity and the future of humanity itself”.

But some top clerics have come out in favour of legislating for gay civil partnerships, with the Bishop of Ragusa recently saying it was important for the state to recognise the civil union of same-sex couples.

He made it amply clear, though, that he was not in favour of gay marriage.

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